MCSA--Patrick Cox

Patrick Cox's picture

I’m going to share an obscure bit of data, and then make a giant leap from it to my conclusion that MCS needs an MCSA.

A few weeks back I saw that H-Material Culture was about 50 new subscriptions away from the 1500-member mark and I planned that “1500 Materialists” message I sent out. At about that same time, the other Network I work on, H-AMSTDY, was just 20 members away from the 6000 member mark, so I figured I would send a very similar “6000 Americanists” message to that group. A very short time later, H-Material Culture's membership reached the 1500 mark, and the 1510 mark, and 1520...and 1530... and H-Amstdy reached 5990...5991...5991...5990... I had never noticed before how consistently H-MatCult's membership rises while H-AMSTDY floats around the same range all the time.

This could simply mean H-AMSTDY is “full.” Perhaps there are only around 6000 people who will ever join an American Studies online Network while H-Material Culture has yet to fill up. And it may be that H-Material Culture has been in this format longer and more effort has been put into it: more features, more contributions solicited, more tweets...

But I get the sense it has something to do with enthusiasm for the perspective fields. In building H-Material Culture, I have been delighted to be part of an active crew of social media materialists. The blogosphere is full of material culture scholars having a lively conversation. There’s an electric feel of excitement about explorations in material culture, at least online. American Studies....not so much, frankly. There is an AS association, many AS journals, and a huge annual (fairly cost-prohibitive) conference...but there isn’t much conversation, at least online. And in the 21st century, that’s significant. In American Studies excitement has given way to establishment, and maybe even dis-establishment.

This might suggest MCS would want to avoid the kind of establishment an association implies, but not to my thinking. To me, an association, done correctly, is the best way to harness the current excitement, keep it alive, and foster more of it. And to protect it.

Here’s another bit of personal experience I will try to pass off as “data”: Outside of H-Net, I work in Childhood Studies, a field as new and small as MCS. With no association, CS faces a threat with which small multi-disciplinary areas of study are commonly confronted: major players, significant centers, and power publisher who can dominate and define the field. These can play important roles in growing fields to thriving nascency, but also have the potential to standardize practices, terms, methodologies, and epistemologies in ways that can stifle growth and multi-disciplinary practice. This is through no fault of their own or ill-intention: it would be unfair to expect one scholar or department to represent, embody, or champion all aspects of a multi-disciplinary field! But that is precisely what a broad and welcoming association can do: champion a far broader range of disciplinary work and practice, and encourage their interaction through conferences, awards, publications.... Without an association, Childhood Studies leans increasingly on the social sciences and activist research, while the humanities are gently diminished.

A broad association of Material Culture Studies that takes seriously the work of museum professionals, art historians, book as object-ist, archeologists, scholars of consumer studies, literary scholars, anthropologist, cultural theorists and many more, can overcome the field-defining potential that some certain few singularities can seem to assert. It takes the expansive reach of an association to bring cohesion to a broad field, while still encouraging the excitement of wide ranging exploration in a growing field.


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